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Catch and Store Energy [Permaculture
Posted on April 27, 2015 @ 11:08:00 AM by Paul Meagher

The imperative to "Catch and Store Energy" is the second of 12 Permaculture Principles that I will be discussing today. I discussed the first principle, "Observe and Interact", in a previous blog.

There are a huge number of ways that we can "Catch and Store Energy". For example, we all need food energy to live and the food we eat is a way to store the solar energy in a form that we can use. So the imperative to "catch and store energy" can simply mean grow some food while the weather is favorable to growing it. We need to collect food during times when food is abundant so that we can store and use it when we need it. The seeds produced by our plants are another form of energy (i.e., reproductive energy) that we should store so that we can continue to grow food.

The advice to "make hay while the sun shines" captures the essence of this principle.

The basis for our real wealth lies in our ability to catch and store energy. The income we derive often comes from the release of value from the energy storages we have built up.

We must all interpret the imperative to "Catch and Store Energy" in our own way because we must all decide what energies we want to catch and store. Physicists offer us one viewpoint on what energy is - the capacity to do work - that is useful in deciding on what constitutes "energy". Things like solar, wind, water, geothermal and biomass are primary and derived forms of energy. The theoretical biologist Howard Odum encouraged us expand our view on energy to include the concept of embodied energy, or the amount of energy that was used to create a particular thing. That thing could be a fish, a 2x4 piece of lumber, a cell phone, or a wind turbine. Each of these things can be evaluated with respect to how much energy was used to create that thing. The amount of money we pay for goods is often correlated with the amount of energy that was used to produce that good. What about things like good will, popularity, positive affect towards a brand, music? Are these energies?

The challenge of living by the principle of "catching and storing energy" is to identify the energies that you want to capture and how you will go about storing it in a high value form. In farming it is relatively easy to identify some energies worth harvesting and storing. Food, water, soil carbon, seeds, wood, hay, animals are all storages of energy and wealth for the farmer. The farmer must manage these energies wisely and create proper storages so that she can eventually obtain various yields from these storages (e.g., food, heat, income).

Anyone who practices Permaculture is familiar with a sector map. A sector map is designed to map the energies that flow around a particular point on a landscape. Common energies to map are summer sun, winter sun, summer wind, winter wind, water drainage, wildlife, noise, fire, views, traffic, and pollution. Here is an example of what a sector map looks like (source):

A sector map can be conceptualized as base map of your property with an overlay for each major type of energy that impinges on it. That overlay typically includes a depiction of how energy flows towards a particular point of interest, often your home. A common way to depict an energy is by drawing a pie shape with the skinny end of the pie facing the house. The direction and width of the rim of the pie represents where an energy is coming from and over what parts of the landscape. A sector map can be used to help you design landscapes, buildings, wind breaks and growing systems in a way that intercepts good energies and deflects bad physical energies.

If we are to create sector maps for the energies that impinge upon us in our business lives it might look a bit different than the standard sector map. It may be be difficult, for example, to establish a specific direction where the energies are coming from. The traffic to your website might be coming from all over the world. A circle around your business probably doesn't provide much useful assistance to design you web-based business. Perhaps a better way to go is to use the size of the pie to represent the importance of that energy to your business. The energies can be good or bad types of energy (sectors filled with plus signs and negative signs respectively?). The exercise of creating a sector map of the energies critical to your business may be useful for designing your business to catch and store energies while deflecting other energies that might prevent you from doing so. These are just some early speculations on what an energetic analysis of a business might look like, one that is not exclusively concerned with physical energies (although they are important to map), but also might include embodied energies, and more abstract forms of energy such as web traffic, positive word of mouth, advertising, product quality, virality, etc....

To conclude, the imperative to "catch and store energy" is an abstract principle that directs us to pay particular attention to how energy flows through the landscape and to take advantage of opportunities to store that energy in a valuable form. If we can store that energy in a valuable form then we can create paper wealth by drawing down on the real wealth contained in our energy storage. The imperative is easily understood in the context of physical energies like sun, wind, water, geothermal, nuclear, biomass, and food. The imperative is less easily understood when extended to "business energies" like popularity, positive reputation, negative reputation, usefulness, beauty, durability, quality, cheapnesss, etc... but may have some applicability to business design if you can create a way to map these energies for the purpose of business design.

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